It’s time for a gut-check. Is your workout routine working? Think about its efficiency, too. It is working as well as it did before? The truth is if you repeat the same exercises or choices over and over without changing anything, they won’t. Part of the reason is that our bodies are amazing machines that adapt quickly to new activity levels. So how can we combat this? Keep things fresh! Change how you use what is already available to you, or how you perform a particular exercise. Here are six ways to do so and activate your muscles in new ways to get more out of each workout.
First, let’s look at resistance training, a key component of every well-rounded fitness routine.
Strength-Building Exercise Tweaks
Try supersets. The term may sound scary, but it’s really pretty simple. Supersets are a great way to increase the intensity of your workout without adding weight. By their very nature, they burn more calories than regular sets. Although there are many variations of supersets, the most common one essentially combines two different exercises using opposing muscles. They are done back-to-back with little or no break between them. For example: Do a set of 15 biceps curls, followed quickly by a set of triceps pushdowns. Once you have completed both, take a 45-60 second break and repeat the movements three more times. Other opposing muscle groups would be back/chest, abs/lower back, or quadriceps/hamstrings. You can also do one set of upper body and one set of lower body. You get the idea!
Add a move. Try kicking up a traditional plank by adding a one-arm row. You hold a straight arm plank position with a small dumbbell in each hand. Then slowly lift one weight in a rowing motion and return it to the floor in a controlled manner. (Make sure to avoid rotating your torso as you pull the weight toward your body.) Repeat with the other arm. Three sets of 10 repetitions per side will get your core and shoulders burning. There are lots of plank variations to help you change up this simple exercise.
Move your feet. Something as simple as changing the position of your feet when doing a standing calf raise will make a world of difference in how your muscles are targeted. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and toes pointed out for one set, then one with your feet straight for the second set, and the last one with your toes pointed in. This shifts the focus from the outer part of the muscle to the inner portion. Three sets of 15 reps each with a 45-60 break in between will get the job done.
Switch it up. We’ve all done lunges, right? Here are a couple variations that can help restart that muscle burn we’re looking for. Try adding a shoulder press to the move. Stand in the standard lunge starting position holding a barbell at shoulder level. As you step forward to complete the lunge, raise the barbell over your head. As you return to the starting position, lower it back to shoulder height. Repeat with the other leg. Or, try a reverse lunge. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, hands on hips, and instead of extending one leg forward, extend it back and squat down. Return to the starting position and repeat with the other leg. Be sure to keep your knees from extending over your toes when doing any variation of a lunge.
Next, let’s look at a couple ways to pump up a traditional cardio routine.
Walk the other way. Most people know how to move the pedals on an elliptical in a forward motion, but did you know most ellipticals allow you to go backwards as well? This is a great way to activate those hamstrings and glutes! Try moving forward for two minutes, then backward for two minutes. Five to six cycles of that ought to do the trick! You can try a direction change on the treadmill as well. Just be careful as you do these new moves.
Just add variety. Forget sticking to one machine or motion your entire cardio workout. Instead, make it more fun and vary your intensity by building a simple circuit. For example, try 10 minutes on a treadmill, 10 minutes on an elliptical, and 10 minutes on a stationary bike for an intense cardio workout. In addition to being a great routine, it helps make the time go by quickly. Switch it up to include stair climbers, rowing machines, or whatever else your individual club has to offer. Make sure your transition from one machine to another is quick so your heart rate stays elevated or within a specific range if you’re following a hear rate training program. If you’re not sure what your target heart rate is, be sure to ask one of the fitness coaches at your club for advice.
These are just some ways to tweak your exercise program to help keep the progress going. When in doubt, ask for help when you’re at the gym. That’s why we’re here. Most of all, have fun and keep up the good work!